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News10 reporter takes sobriety tests after going over NTSB's proposed lower drunk-driving limit

12:10 AM, May 15, 2013   |    comments
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News10 reporter Suzanne Phan takes field sobriety tests after drinking just enough to qualify as drunk under the proposed new guidelines.

SACRAMENTO, CA - A big change could be looming, one that might increase your chances of getting arrested for driving under the influence.

A new proposal would drastically lower the blood alcohol level required to prove you're drunk. Right now, you're considered drunk if you're blood alcohol level is 0.08 percent or higher.

It would take four drinks for a 200 pound man to reach that limit. It would little more than two drinks for a 140 pound woman.

Office of Transportation Safety spokesperson Chris Cochran said there's a lot of variation between people and how many drinks they can have.

"A woman who's 100 pounds, didn't have much to eat, didn't get a good night's sleep, she may only be able to have one or two drinks and be buzzed, fail a field sobriety test, maybe reach an illegal BAC level. A man, well over 200 pounds (who) had a big meal, he can have 4 or 5 drinks over a few hours and never get that buzzed and not get to that legal limit," Cochran said.

But now, the NTSB is recommending the legal limit be lowered to 0.05 percent.

News10 reporter Suzanne Phan's Experiment:

With the proper supervision, I drank just enough to qualify as drunk under the proposed new guidelines. It doesn't take long for a 100 pound, 5 foot 1 female to get legally drunk if the level is just 0.05.

After two beers in 20 minutes, I officially register point 0.076 according to the California Highway Patrol breathalyzer test, that's barely under the current limit of 0.08 percent, but well over the proposed limit.

On a side note, I purchased a digital breath alcohol tester from a local drug store. A quick test showed that my level was at 0.11 percent on that device.

As I got behind the wheel for a simulated driving test at the Safety Center in Sacramento, it didn't take me long to crash after barely missing a tree and then hitting a stop sign.

I also failed the field sobriety test. The officer checked my eyes as I followed his finger from side to side, after which I learned that my eyes were twitching and darting back and forth.

Standing barefoot, I was told to stand on one leg and hold the other leg off the ground; but, my leg was 8 inches off the ground, not 6 inches as instructed. I wobbled a lot, even though I claimed that yoga lessons have helped me maintain my balance.

For another test, the officer told me to close my eyes, lean my head back and tell him when 30 seconds had elapsed. Despite my system of counting 1- Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi, etc., I told the officer "it was time" after 12 seconds. Another test involved me counting on my fingers while holding them in an unusual way. 

All of these tests also included numerous questions about my physical and mental state of mind - if I'm taking medication, when was the last time I ate, etc.

The Debate:

The CHP aggressively targets drunk drivers now, but what if the blood alcohol level is lowered to 0.05 percent?

"It makes people more cautious. For a lot of people, when they know that the blood (alcohol) level is much lower are going to be much more cautious of how much they have in order to make sure that they can drive safely," Safety Center's Gail Kelly said.

"It goes back to those individuals and drivers and members of the community," CHP Officer Adrian Quintero said. "They need to understand if you consume one beer or so, it's going to affect anybody's ability to operate a vehicle safely."

RELATED STORY: Feds want to lower drunk-driving limit

Opponents of the proposed new level said it targets moderate social drinkers and not the hard core population of people who've had way too many drinks. They said those are the people who cause the vast majority of alcohol related fatalities.

By Suzanne Phan, sphan@news10.net

Twitter:@suzannephan

Facebook: SuzannePhanNews10

News10/KXTV

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